What is Male Gaze vs Female Gaze?

Anastasia Carlon, Staff Writer

The male and female gaze is a feminist film theory about how women are depicted through film.

The male gaze is one of the pillars of feminist theory in film, literature, and television. The theory was first developed in 1975 by Laura Mulvey and is still prominent in cinema. The male gaze refers to how women are depicted in media, specifically from a heterosexual man’s point of view. This view generally hypersexualizes, weakens, and treats female characters as objects for the male protagonist. 

In the past few years, the female gaze has entered the field. The female gaze challenges the typical male-dominated viewpoint in cinema. The female director/writer approaches their media in a different way than the stereotypical masculine view and tends to have a more emotional or artistic core. The female characters are less objectified and are shown to be more than their exterior. The men are also less powerful and have more depth. The female gaze is also inclusive of more sexual orientations.

A good comparison is the portrayal of the DC comic book character Harley Quinn. In the 2016 movie Suicide Squad, Harley wore tiny shorts, ripped clothing, and childlike pigtails. These served the heterosexual-male audience, especially since it was directed by David Ayer, a heterosexual man. On the other hand, Birds of Prey, directed by Cathy Yan, Harley is just as reckless, vicious, seductive, and fun as before but clearly without the purpose of pleasing men. Her pigtails are shorter and are paired with bangs, which makes her seem less like a child. She also started wearing less revealing clothing and is more independent. 

Angel Ruiz stated, “In Suicide Squad it was like she was wearing nothing. I don’t think she could fight that well in that clothing because imagine trying to kick someone and then…yeah. The second outfit is more practical and seems like it would be a better fit.”

Marissa Hutchinson said, “Birds of Prey was a better interpretation of Harley. Her outfits were more practical and I feel like her character showed a lot better.”